What Does It Take to Be a Real IT Professional?
How many credentials does it take to be an IT professional? Which college degree will make you an IT professional? Is holding a Microsoft, Cisco, Novell, National Association of Communication Systems Engineers (NACSE) or CompTIA set of credentials enough to make you a skilled professional? How many years of hands-on experience will get you to the top of your field? And how important is real-world experience?
Along with all of the technical skills, does the IT professional need to know anything about business management, sales techniques, ethics in business, project management, conflict avoidance, proposal writing, team leadership, etc? Finally, what requirements or guidelines are there for the IT professional to maintain skills and knowledge as the technology continues to move ahead? It is becoming clear that all of these factors need to be considered when talking about a real “professional.” Unfortunately, the IT industry appears to be way behind the curve.
Doctors do not start practicing right out of medical school. They spend several years in grinding intern programs to hone real-world skills. The student pilot must spend several years or more in secondary flying positions before he can earn First Seat as a senior pilot. Why is it, then, that in the IT industry, anyone can claim to be an expert with no shred of requirements either from the government or from our own industry?
Does anyone care that those in IT who do practice at a professional level have no way of differentiating themselves from the large number of IT Bozos who make a living at the expense of their clients? Moreover, where is the corporate leadership that would clearly benefit by setting stringent requirements for both its internal staff as well as those it partners with as channel partners? With all the focus on bottom-line productivity, it is amazing how short-sighted many of the leading IT companies seem to be by not recognizing and supporting the value proposition in setting high standards.
How do we expect our clients to know who to look to for IT guidance when we don’t appear to have any structure within our industry? Does it not make sense that the term “IT professional” would refer to someone who has:
- Sound foundational skills.
- Specific skills and knowledge within a chosen IT discipline.
- A minimum level of practical experience within the discipline.
- At least some basic business and people skills.
- A clear set of guidelines and requirements that will help keep those skills current and up to date.
We all know about those people who, with little or no prior background, attend one of the “miracle boot camps” for five weeks and walk away with an IT credential that does little to improve our industry image as “professionals.” Clearly, clients have no way of telling the real pros from the wanna-bes. Some organizations have worked at establishing technical standards, such as the IEEE, W3C or BICSE. But for the most part, we simply have no common standard that is used as a foundation for the IT worker. Almost any other profession we can name has adopted standards.
We need to first recognize and then admit that the IT industry has some serious shortcomings—that a large portion of our IT workforce is simply a group of loose cannons doing a hit-or-miss job for their clients. Consider the news reports over the past several years. How many IT-related companies are in trouble of some sort? The stock market certainly reflects this lack of confidence and shows solid reluctance to invest new dollars in IT companies. One needs only to go to a cocktail party and listen to the latest “IT nightmare” that occurred at the storyteller’s office.
Many IT professionals have spent years learning and perfecting their technology skills and knowledge and even more time trying to keep current with new developments. Few of them, however, have ever had the time to learn and implement even rudimentary business practices necessary to run a successful IT company.
Things have changed! In today’s world, it is simply not enough to be a tech guru and offer the bleeding edge in technology. If we are to truly become professionals, we must balance our hard-earned technical skills with sound, ethical business practices and hands-on-experience. We must embrace those practices and procedures that tell our clients that we are professional business people, and we must conduct our business in a succinct and ethical manner.
Bob Kile is the executive director of NACSE (National Association of Communication Systems Engineers), a nonprofit, professional standards and certification organization. Bob has held management positions with companies such as Xerox, AMP, Sears Business Centers and GE.